THE BLOG

Is Our Attitude to Mental Health Absolute Madness?

20/10/2014 15:02 BST | Updated 20/12/2014 10:59 GMT
Gary John Norman via Getty Images

Have you ever woken up before work with sheer dread at having to face the world?

You call in sick with a moderate physical ailment, because it's easier to tell your boss you have a migraine/food poisoning/the flu than go into the intricacies of something you may not understand yourself. Have you ever been told to 'be strong' or 'get over it' by someone who just can't fathom the incorporeal nature of what's affecting your life?

Have you ever done something so drastic it's described as 'attention seeking' or 'a cry for help', when all you actually want to do is feel something, anything, besides worthless?

It seems almost incomprehensible in a world where social media encourages us to interact with the entire world and share every detail of our mundane lives, where political correctness asks us to be sensitive to others, where our government wants us to fulfill our desires via the concept of 'big society', that something every single one of us has, a mental health status, can be overlooked, shunted to the side or even stigmatised. A mental ailment is a weakness, a physical one demands sympathy. A brain tumour tugs at the heart strings, a brain that demands slightly more understanding and patience can cause frustration or alarm. We appear to have a society that places more importance on capitalism than wellbeing. 'Don't worry about what's going on in your mind, just buy stuff!'

It's only when a physical manifestation of a mental condition happens, such as self-harm or a suicide attempt, that people sit up and take notice. But even then the response may not be sympathetic. We can believe in unseen deities or ethereal monetary systems that have far-reaching, global consequences, but we can't discuss how the pressures of living and working in an economic downturn affects our mental state.

However, there are signs of change. More successful public figures are openly discussing their mental health. We have a younger generation that appear to be more in-tune and open about what's happening in their brains than the generations before, but what more can be done? We increasingly have a society that makes allowances and alterations to life and work situations for physical conditions, but the same for mental health is still lacking. Employers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for physical disabilities. Wouldn't it be great if, in the very least, the taboo around mental health was removed and starting a conversation around it wasn't so difficult? Maybe starting the conversation earlier is key. Physical education is still compulsory in schools but what about emotional, wellbeing and spiritual education, too?

I work on BBC Free Speech and we've made a film that follows Rebecca, who courageously shares her story of one of the physical manifestations of mental health - self harming. She describes both the misunderstanding and support she received coming through her teenage years into adulthood and offers some positive advice to those in a similar situation. Watch her story below. The more we talk about mental health, as difficult or uncomfortable as it can be, the more we remove the stigma that can surround it.

Tune into Free Speech on BBC Three, 8pm, 21st October. For the first time in the history of British TV debates, the entire audience will be made up of people with a personal experience of mental health issues. You can also follow Free Speech at Facebook.com/BBCFreeSpeech.